Cartoons - a new era
Every morning, we are regaled by a soul-tickling feast of cartoons.
The day's yield of the 'barbed-art,' arrives home via the small
screen, as a sustaining electronic breakfast.
In a stunning display of media magic, 'Mul Pituwa' has continued to
present a plateful of fun, in what could be described as a breath taking
marathon in Sri Lanka's journalism.
This programme and its versatile presenter, have won wide accolade
and steady admiration.
'Mul Pituwa', media prestidigitator, has, in effect, ushered in a New
Era of print-media cartoons.
Offering a multi-coloured bouquet of selected cartoons everyday, 'Mul
Pituwa' has ensured a stable national patronage to this Art Form.
It has transformed the cartoon, into an absorbing subject for mass
The impact of the humble cartoon has begun to raise ripples in social
At a birthday celebration I too part in, recently, the ladies
conversed cartoons seen on 'Mul Pituwa', into subject-matter for party
Yes, quite clearly a New Era has dawned for Sri Lankan cartoons.
Everywhere, for that matter, the cartoon, especially the political
variety, enjoys mass popularity.
In a democracy, statesmen, politicians, officials and even the
ordinary citizens, have invariably to perform in the open arena of the
Exercising the freedom and the right they possess, the people report
the activities of the men and women, who are socially and politically
But, a good part of that comment is in written text.
In such a context, the professional practice of the cartoonist is a
different proposition altogether. The cartoonist utilizes the art of
sketching, drawing and painting.
There is yet another significant difference. As a rule the political
cartoonist, aims his barbs at his 'victims', when they are still around.
In essence, therefore, the political cartoon is primarily for the
living, by the living and very much of the living.
The generally held view is, that, the art genre 'cartoon', is of
fairly recent origin. It is not at all so.
The origin of the cartoon especially the political cartoon, dates
back to the hoary past. In the first authentically recorded political
cartoon, the 'victim', was a member of the mightiest ruling class, the
world has ever-known. He was Pharaoh Akhenaton, the unpopular
father-in-law of the supremely famous Egyptian King Tutankhamen - whose
name has been reduced to irreverent 'King Tut', by wags of our time. The
cartoon dates back to about 1300 BC.
Commenting on the world's first-ever political cartoon, Bob Callaghan
observes: "It is useful to recall, that the cartoon's oldest use is as
political satire....Someone along the Nile decided to depict the new
candidate for Pharaoh, as a dog with a man's head."
The fortunes or the misfortunes of this original cartoonist, are not
on record. But, significant responses to cartoons in much later ages are
Many centuries after the Pharaoh cartoon, the genre of satirical
assault, elicited the displeasure of powerful men, who vehemently
resented being made victims of the 'barbed art.'
In an outburst provoked by a cartoon in the issue of the US
publication 'Harpers Weekly' for the 19th of August 1871, political boss
William Marcy Tweed spluttered: "Stop them damn pictures. I don't care
so much what the papers write about me. My constituents cannot read.
But, damn it, they can see pictures."
Totally contrary to that spirit the US Today is the Golden Land of
Cartoonists. So much so, that the practitioners of the barbed art, tend
to assess the 'cartoonability' of new leaders.
With the pervasive spread of liberal thought and the gradual seeping
down of democratic values deep into the core of the modern psyche, the
political cartoon began to assume a new and more acceptable guise.
At first, the word 'cartoon' meant no more than the preliminary
sketch for a fresco or painting. But, the well-known British humour
magazine 'Punch' adapted the word to mean a satirical drawing-thus
making an unexpected contribution to the English Language.
This was in July 1843. It is important to remember, that cultures of
the Oriental Region possessed a tradition of humour - both folk and
Vidushaka - the Court-Jester - occupied a high niche in state
hierarchy and was perhaps the only person who could take liberties with
an august monarch.
The Vidushaka was generally a learned Brahmin, who enjoyed the
privilege of laughing of the ruler, reminding the monarch constantly of
his earthly, human stature, in spite of the divinity that tradition
endowed upon him.
The political cartoonists of our day are the 'Vidushakas' of the
In Sri Lanka, we have had a fairly long tradition of political
cartooning. Colette of Lake House, did not spare even such stalwarts as
the first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake, Wijesoma, championed in his
cartoons, mostly the common man, symbolised by the character he created
Punchi Singho, Camilius Perera brought into being a whole gallery of
cartoon characters. But, we have to grant objectively that, it is 'Mul
Pituwa' that elevated a whole generation of cartoonists to high profile.
This art form flourishes, in direct proportion to the liberal
attitude of the leaders.
Such leaders as the late Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala, the Late
President J.R. Jayewardene and the late President R. Premadasa relished
the cartoons in which they were caricatured.
The famous J.R. Proboscis was a favourite feature of the cartoonists,
who elevated it to legendary heights.
Most of those leaders had a cordial rapport with their cartoonist 'formentors'.
Sir John would have them at his fabulous breakfast table. J.R. invited
them to tea.
The cordiality exhibited by these leaders, is a far cry from the
shrieking impatience of political boss William Marcy Tweed, who screamed
'Stop them damn pictures.'
But as I see it, the cartoonists have come emphatically to their own,
in the era of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The personality of President
Mahinda Rajapaksa is a godsend to the cartoonist. His dress,
dramatically accentuated by the brown shawl-generally knotted his
impressive facial nuances and his ever-present smile are all eminent
treasures to the political cartoonists.
In the best traditions of our late leadership, President Mahinda
Rajapaksa has always had a built-in rapport with all segments of media.
The new era in the field of Sri Lankan cartoons, depends to a great
extent on this personality of the leader. The President's in-born
cordiality towards the people, and his unaffected, outgoing nature, have
created a background in which the political cartoonist could go to work
with uninhibited glee, fully aware that the cartoonist will not evoke
even a minute trace of malice in the First Citizen of the Land, towards
whom they aim their satirical barbs.
In consequence cartooning has astonishingly proliferated under
President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
His comprehensive vanquishing of the evil forces of terrorism, has
given the cartoonist a theme, that did not exist before.
All these cumulatively spell, a New Era of Cartoons in Sri Lanka.
Then there is 'Mul Pituwa'. This programme presented with a charming
and at times, a mischievous stance, evokes such a wide-spread mass
interest in the cartoon, that the people experience it as a New Era. In
the light of all this, I have a suggestion for 'Montage.'
'Montage' could take the lead to organise an 'Annual Cartoon
Festival' of Sri Lanka.
Prestigious awards could be presented to a whole range of creative
personalities in the field of Sri Lankan cartoons.
How about it 'Montage?'